Latest News

House Committee to Hear About Commercial Space

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing next Thursday, May 5, on the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. George Nield, director of the office, will be one of the witnesses; others have not yet been announced.

Nield's office is responsible for facilitating and regulating the commercial space launch industry, so is as much in the forefront of the debate over commercial crew as is NASA. Companies wanting to transport people either on suborbital or orbital flights need a license from this office both for launch and reentry.

The office was formally established in the 1984 Commercial Space Transportation Act. That Act and its amendments in 1988 and 2004, and the 1998 Commercial Space Act, set the legal framework for the commercial space launch business. (Link to those laws from our "Space Law" section.) Its activities are authorized by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

The office is somewhat unusual because of its legislated mandate to both facilitate and regulate the industry. Some see those as potentially contradictory responsibilities.

ESA Formally Agrees to Continue ISS Through 2020

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has formally agreed to extending International Space Station (ISS) operations through at least 2020. Russia and Japan already had agreed to the extension in response to President Obama's decision last year to keep the facility operating past 2015, the end date established by the George W. Bush Administration.

The ISS partnership includes the United States, Russia, ESA, Japan and Canada. President Obama's decision thus was only the first step in getting agreement from the partnership as a whole. The Canadian Space Agency is still "working with its government to reach consensus" about continuing the ISS, according to NASA's press release.

President Bush had planned to terminate ISS operations in 2015 in order to focus the U.S. human spaceflight program on returning astronauts to the Moon by 2020. That program, Constellation, is being terminated by the Obama Administration, which views ISS as the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program for the rest of this decade at least. President Obama announced a goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, not to the Moon, last year.

UPDATE 2: Events of Interest: Week of April 25-29, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

UPDATES: The ASAP meeting scheduled for Friday has been postponed until May 24. The NASA media teleconference with the CCDev2 winners on Thursday, April 28, has been added.

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. All times are local. The House and Senate remain in recess this week for the spring break.

Monday, April 25

Tuesday, April 26

  • NASA Advisory Council (NAC) IT Committee, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD, 8:30 am - 5:30 pm
  • NAC Exploration Committee, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, 1:00 - 6:00 PM

Tuesday-Wednesday, April 26-27

Tuesday-Thursday, April 26-28

Wednesday, April 27

Wednesday-Friday, April 27-29

Thursday, April 28

Thursday-Friday, April 28-29

Friday, April 29

National Journal Needs Space Reporting Expertise

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Editorial Comment

The National Journal (NJ), one of the most highly respected inside-the-beltway news sources, really needs to beef up its space expertise.

In an article today (subscription required), a NJ reporter totally misunderstands what happened to the Constellation program. In the article, entitled "Spending Bill Funds NASA Mission to the Moon," the reporter states that "Among the budget cuts that President Obama had to agree to in order to avert a government shutdown, Republicans re-gifted him one that he willingly made long ago: $3.8 billion to further NASA's space exploration. The money will fund NASA's Constellation Program, which was cut entirely under the president's initial fiscal year 2011 budget proposal."

The full year Continuing Resolution (CR) does not, of course, fund the Constellation program at all. In fact, it finally allows NASA to cancel the Constellation program, relieving the agency of constraints imposed by the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act that prevented the agency from shutting it down.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, Constellation was the George W. Bush Administration's program to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and someday send them to Mars using an Orion capsule and the Ares I and V launch vehicles. Ares I and Orion would also have taken people back and forth to low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS). That program is dead.

President Obama wants the commercial sector to take care of taking people back and forth to LEO and ISS, while NASA invests in technologies to enable beyond-LEO human missions, starting with a trip to an asteroid by 2025. The President does not want to send people back to the Moon's surface because that is a "been there, done that" objective.

Congress did not agree with the President and the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue struck a compromise in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The law permits NASA to facilitate the development of "commercial crew" for LEO as the President wanted, while leaving open the next destination for NASA's human spaceflight program beyond LEO. It could be the Moon, an asteroid, a Lagrange Point, or Mars. As the NJ reporter later correctly states, the CR advances the Orion spacecraft and the creation of a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV), but the reporter obviously does not understand that that is not the Constellation program. Orion and the HLLV are simply pieces of hardware, not a program. What the new NASA program is, other than going "beyond LEO," remains a work in progress, but if President Obama has his way, it will not be to the surface of the Moon.

Constellation is dead, and the next destination for U.S. human spaceflight beyond LEO is completely up in the air. The CR absolutely does not fund "NASA's Mission to the Moon" as the NJ headline states.

Legislation Introduced on Shuttle Retirement Homes, U.S. Space Goals

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

As the House prepared to recess for its spring break, three bills were introduced that would affect NASA. Two address the retirement homes for the space shuttles and one would direct NASA to focus on returning astronauts to the Moon.

The shuttle retirement home issue arose after NASA Administrator Bolden decided to send the four orbiters to Kennedy Space Center (Atlantis), New York City (Enterprise), Washington, DC (Discovery) and Los Angeles (Endeavour). Folks in Texas and Ohio felt slighted. Some of the Ohio congressional delegation have called for a GAO investigation. Those who want Houston to be one of the locations have taken a different approach -- legislation.

H.R. 1590, introduced by Rep. Shiela Jackson Lee (D-TX) and four co-sponsors would require that space shuttle Discovery be placed on display at Space Center Houston for 15 years and then "returned" to Washington, DC. NASA's decision was to send Discovery to the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center outside of Washington, and since the legislation says that it would be "returned" to Washington it seems to assume that it would be in Washington first. How long it would be in Washington before being sent to Houston is not addressed in the legislation, nor is the money needed to transport it from one place to the other. NASA uses a specially converted 747 to ferry the shuttles around the country and presumably it would have to remain in service to accomplish the goal of this legislation.

H.R. 1536, introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), would send Atlantis to Florida and Discovery to Washington, DC as NASA wants, but Enterprise would go to Los Angeles instead of New York. Endeavour, which NASA plans to send to Los Angeles, would go to Houston instead. New York would lose out. One complaint has been that three of the orbiters would be on the East Coast and none in the center of the country.

Separately, Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) introduced H.R. 1641, the Reasserting American Leadership in Space Act or the REAL Act. It directs NASA to plan to return astronauts to the Moon by 2022 and "develop a sustained human presence on the Moon, in order to promote exploration, commerce, science, and United States preeminence in space as a stepping stone for the future exploration of Mars and other destinations." The bill does not include any funding, but states that NASA's budget requests and expenditures should be "consistent with achieving this goal."

Shuttle Endeavour Set for Launch on April 29

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

NASA officially set April 29 at the launch date for STS-134 (Endeavour) today. The mission, commanded by Mark Kelly, will lift off at 3:47 pm EDT if all goes as planned.

The six-person crew is nominally scheduled for a 14 day mission. Kelly and four other NASA astronauts will be joined by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Roberto Vittori. This will be Endeavour's last space flight. It is delivering a scientific instrument, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), to the International Space Station (ISS). AMS is designed to detect cosmic rays in the hope of discovering particles of antimatter in particular.

The launch is attracting special interest not only because it is the last launch of Endeavour, but because Mark Kelly's wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), may be able to attend the launch. She is recovering from an assassination attempt on January 8. Kelly has made clear for weeks that he hopes she will be well enough to attend, but cautions that the decision is in the hands of her doctors.

Endeavour FRR Underway, News Conference About 4:00 pm EDT Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The Flight Readiness Review (FRR) for the launch of STS-134 (Endeavour) is underway. A news conference is expected to be held no earlier than 4:00 pm EDT today. STS-134 is tentatively set for launch on April 29, but the official date will be set at this meeting. The news conference will be available via NASA TV. Check NASA's Twitter feed for the exact time that it will start.

NASA Awards $269 Million to Four Companies in CCDev Round 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA announced today four new Space Act Agreements with Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Boeing in the second round of its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev2) competition. The awards total $269.3 million.

The goal of the CCDev program is for the government to facilitate the commercial development of spacecraft and launch vehicles to take astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO), including the International Space Station (ISS). Instead of NASA contracting for and overseeing these development efforts, it is providing some funding while the companies are expected to provide the rest of the funds themselves -- so-called "skin in the game." Eventually NASA would buy crew transportation services from any successful companies, who presumably would be offering crew space transportation to other customers as well.

The debate over whether NASA should rely on commercial companies for LEO crew transportation has been and remains a subject of intense debate in space policy circles.

NASA hopes at least two companies will succeed so it can benefit from pricing competition and also have a backup if one of the systems fails and is grounded for a lengthy period of time.

The awards today are as follows:

-- Blue Origin, Kent, Wash., $22 million
-- Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colo., $80 million
-- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., $75 million
-- The Boeing Company, Houston, $92.3 million

Events of Interest: Week of April 18-22, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate are in recess for two weeks for the Passover-Easter-Spring holidays. They will return the first week of May.

Monday-Tuesday, April 18-19

  • NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Planetary Science Subcommittee (of the Science Committee), NASA Headquarters, Washington DC.
    • April 18, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm EDT, room 3H46
    • April 19, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
    • This meeting also is accessible by telephone and WebEx. See the Federal Register notice for more information.

Thursday, April 21

Thursday-Friday, April 21-22

  • NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Committee, NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
    • April 21, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
    • April 22, 8:30 am - 2:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
    • This meeting also is accessible for telephone and WebEx. See the Federal Register notice for more information.

Lubchenco Reiterates Weather Satellite Data Gap Warning

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Apr-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

In testimony to a Senate Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco reiterated a warning she made earlier to a House committee that a gap in polar weather satellite data is "very likely" because Congress is not providing adequate funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

Responding to a question from subcommittee chairman Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Lubchenco said that because the full-year FY2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) did not contain sufficient funding for JPSS, there will be "at least" an 18-month data gap because the launch date will slip by that many months, to September 2016 at the earliest. The gap will have "very serious consequences to our ability to do severe storm warnings, long term weather forecasts, search and rescue, and good weather forecasts for your State." she told the Senator. Alaska benefits in particular from polar weather satellites since geostationary weather satellites, over the equator, do not have a good view of the polar regions.

When asked if there was a "Plan B," she said that there really were no alternatives and NOAA was trying to "figure out how to miminize the damage." She told the Senate committee, as she did the House, that for every dollar that is not spent now, the country will need to spend $3-5 in the future because contracts will have to be cancelled and restarted, and skilled workers will be let go and rehired.

At the very end of the hearing, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) wanted to know what was driving NOAA's budget increase of 41 percent compared to its FY2008 level. Lubchenco said that she had not done a comparison with FY2008, but said satellites are the driver of current budget request increases. Defending the satellite program, Lubchenco said "a lot of people" ask "why do I need your satellites [when] I have the Weather Channel, but that's where we get 98 percent of the information that goes into our weather forecasts...Satellites do a wide variety of things that are very important to saving lives and property and enabling commerce in our country."

A webcast of the hearing before the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard is available on the Senate Commerce committee's website. The discussion of NOAA satellites was a very small part of the hearing, which focused on fisheries issues.

Events of Interest    

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: